Encountering “The Violence of Living”: A Review of Mira Ptacin’s “Poor Your Soul”

Poor Your Soul, the debut effort from author Mira Ptacin, sets its sight on telling untold stories of women. The title, a delicious phrase taken from the idiosyncratic immigrant English of her powerful mother, signifies a complex, overlapping story of the bonds between two generations of powerful women dealing with death and the creation of life, using pain and suffering as the connective tissue. Ptacin, a native of the smaller Battle Creek, Michigan, finds herself beguiled by the glittering illusions […]

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Notes on Religious Striving For Good and Ill: Revisiting Marilynne Robinson

To talk about Marilynne Robinson and her work is to talk about an institution, with all the attending pluses and minuses of that framework. Her work needs no more acclaim or renown, she will continue to receive awards, and each new work – an essay, a story – will be welcomed as an event, as something to carve out time for and savor. And why not? Robinson, like the venerable Ruth Bader Ginsburg or Mary Beard or Claudia Rankine, is […]

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Notes on the Modern Elegy: A Review of “Gabriel: A Poem”

Gabriel: A Poem by Edward Hirsch (Knopf; 78 p.)  Elegies, in our age of access to centuries’ worth of poems, can seem outdated, stilted, and perhaps even a bit indulgent. It’s hard to imagine a straightforward popular and populist book lamenting death like John Gunther’s howl of an elegy for his young son, Death Be Not Proud today. I find it hard not to feel an instinctive response of both been-there-seen-that and the attending tic of kindness that tells us […]

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Pain, Language, and the Spiritual: A Review of Christian Wiman’s “Once in the West”

Once in the West: Poems by Christian Wiman (Farrar, Straus and Giroux; 128 p.)  Nabokov, while discussing Tolstoy in his Lectures on Russian Literature, explains that, “it is rather difficult to separate Tolstoy the preacher from Tolstoy the artist—it is the same deep slow voice, the same robust shoulder pushing up a cloud of visions or a load of ideas. What one would like to do, would be to kick the glorified soapbox from under his sandalled feet and then […]

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Morality Amidst Nihilism, With Comedy: A Review of Adam Wilson’s “What’s Important is Feeling”

What’s Important is Feeling by Adam Wilson Harper Perennial; 200 p. In a conversation with author Adam Wilson, he conveyed that though he envisions himself as “a humanist in society he aims for nihilism in his writing.” This pithy and insightful phrase captures a deep desire of many writers in our environment: the desire for pure freedom. Most writers understandably chafe at the notion that you can place any limits on what fiction can or ought to do, and therefore […]

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Cultivating a Mind of Winter

Can poetry provide any consolation for the frigid horrors and endless annoyances of this Polar Vortex? Likely not unless you burn the pages for heat…but it can offer engagement with the peculiar beauty of this benighted season or distraction for those unable to will away the cold.  For the most part poets assume two postures towards winter: anger or awe. Winter, on the whole elicits depictions of its ferocity, its ruthless, merciless winds, frozen temperatures, and strange powder,  and depictions […]

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Communal Needs and Individual Desires: A Review of Amos Oz’s “Between Friends”

Between Friends by Amos Oz Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; 179 p. After a lifetime of international acclaim for your writing, what do you do? Do you “retire?” like Philip Roth, or do you simply rest on your laurels and enjoy your accomplishment? Both sound pretty great, and you couldn’t begrudge anyone for choosing either. But Amos Oz continues to churn out important and impressive work that serve as a sort of State of the Union on the Israeli soul and Jewish […]

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A Year of Favorites: Joe Winkler

A Year of Favorites

Some of the best non-fiction this year came from the realm of historical documents. Though Justice Scalia always writes a better, more entertaining and engaging opinion (albeit one that betrays a frighteningly archaic set of biases), Justice Kennedy wrote one for the ages because through his sometimes clunky legal opinions he penned one of the most redemptive, straightforward and important statements of this 21st century,  denouncing DOMA:

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